Ann Epidemiol 2006 Nov 4;16(11):850-9. Epub 2006 Oct 4.
Division of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University, School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157, USA.
Purpose: The purpose of the study is to examine variation in adolescent drug-use patterns by using latent class regression analysis and evaluate the properties of an estimating-equations approach under different cluster-unit trial designs.
Methods: A set of second-order estimating equations for latent class models under the cluster-unit trial design are proposed. This approach models the correlation within subclusters (drug-use behaviors), but ignores the correlation within clusters (communities). A robust covariance estimator is proposed that accounts for within-cluster correlation. Performance of this approach is addressed through a Monte Carlo simulation study, and practical implications are illustrated by using data from the National Evaluation of the Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws Randomized Community Trial.
Results: The example shows that the proposed method provides useful information about the heterogeneous nature of drug use by identifying two subtypes of adolescent problem drinkers. A Monte Carlo simulation study supports the proposed estimation method by suggesting that the latent class model parameters were unbiased for 30 or more clusters. Consistent with other studies of generalized estimating equation (GEE) estimators, the robust covariance estimator tended to underestimate the true variance of regression parameters, but the degree of inflation in the test size was relatively small for 70 clusters and only slightly inflated for 30 clusters.
Conclusions: The proposed model for studying adolescent drug use provides an alternative to standard diagnostic criteria, focusing on the nature of the drug-use profile, rather than relying on univariate symptom counts. The second-order GEE-type estimation procedure provided a computationally feasible approach that performed well for a moderate number of clusters and was consistent with prior studies of GEE under the generalized linear model framework.